Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr held a discussion over the course of many years, in person and in letters, in which they discussed how to interpret the results of certain experiments in quantum physics. Bohr was adamant that the results observed demanded a new and non-classical interpretation, but Einstein was equally convinced that the strange experimental results could only be explained by accepting that the classical mechanisms that must be there had not yet been discovered.
For example, the experiments showed that observation of the properties of one sub-atomic particle could simultaneously affect the properties of another particle separated from it by a distance impossible for there to have been any communication between the particles. Bohr insisted that this was telling us something fundamental about the universe, but Einstein rejected this idea, referring to it as "spooky action at a distance".
Contemporary physics has been constructed upon the results of analyzing experiments on ever smaller constituents of matter and applying the results of those experiments to an improved understanding of the forms and processes of the universe as a whole. This is the religion of a material age, the work to understand the laws of world creation and maintenance.
Early on, matter was assumed to be "atomic", that is, to have a smallest fundamental particle of which all other matters would be conglomerates. These fundamental particles were acted on by energy to mechanically produce the entire range of universal phenomena. This picture was shaken at the very beginning of the twentieth century when Planck proposed a temporary fix to resolve certain problems this model encountered in the study of the radiation of energy. That fix was to use a discrete size for energy "particles" in the equations describing the radiation. In other words, for the sake of the equations, to define energy as consisting of packets of a definite size, disallowing energy to exist in amounts that did not fit neatly into some integer number of those packets. You couldn't for example, have an amount of energy equal to half of a packet, nor could you have 10 and one-thirds packets. You could not have anything but one, two, three, and so on, but no fractional number of packets.
To everyone's surprise, the temporary fix turned out to be the most accurate description of the actual way energy was transmitted, received, and stored. In packets. These packets are called "quanta", any singular packet is called a "quantum". Quantum physics, then, is about this strange idea that there are very definite limitations to which you can divide anything—at some point things cannot get smaller, they are no longer divisible, what you have arrived at is the fundamental particle or thing. One of the reasons this was very strange and indeed unbelievable, is that science up to this time had established itself by demolishing this very idea—it was always finding ways to divide whichever particles had been thought to be the smallest into still smaller particles.
Armed with this new knowledge, Einstein soon discovered the relationship of (in fact, the identity of) energy and matter with his famous formula E=MC2, and Bohr was able to explain the energetic structure of the atom, where electrons moved between atomic orbits (later called "shells") as a result of the reception or emission of quanta. Somehow, Bohr was able to fathom the meaning of the new knowledge and hold on to that understanding, something even the great Einstein was unable to do.
Bohr emphasized the necessary interaction of the measurement with the measured, an intrusion normally unnoticeable on a large scale, but affecting and sometimes even determining measurement at a very small scale. But even more remarkably, what Bohr was saying was that this condition was more fundamental than known physics. Quantum physics was better physics. As it became clear that the previous physics, the physics of Newton and Einstein, was only descriptive (albeit highly effective) it was necessarily highlighted that even this new and more exact description might also be "only a description". Bohr had no problem with that, and in fact embraced it. It was "just a description", a better description, and we were beginning to see that our descriptions were not reality. Only approximations of reality, and it was high time to be disillusioned about logical thinking.
The inter-penetrating "worlds" of the fourth way cosmology provide a useful tool when trying to understand how to interpret contemporary particle- and astro-physics. Each finer world interleaves coarser worlds, just as air may be inside of water which may be inside of wood. When dealing with physics at the quantum level, we seem to be dealing with world 3. World 3 is within world 6 which is within world 12 and so on, and the approach of our science is to access ever finer worlds to help explain the coarser ones. All in a mechanical, unconscious way of course—there is no recognition of the necessity of change of consciousness to actually experience the higher worlds.
The reason that world 3 is affected by our measurement of it is that at that level there is no distinction between observer and observed, nor is there a distinction between time and space. How can there be an observer and observed if they cannot be separated in time or space? This is stated in "that strange cipher" (as Rodney Collin called it) of the cosmological ideas in In Search of the Miraculous as the idea that world 3 is completely conscious, and that at this level the three forces are one whole.
Einstein's objection to Bohr's view of the quantum world was essentially that world 3 had to conform to world 6, that a world without time/space distinctions had to be subject to time/space distinctions. Bohr realized that what they had discovered was the higher law, and time/space had to bow to it. This was, and this remains, the central struggle of modern physics.
Bohr's idea of complementarity has to do with looking at phenomena from different "points of view", that is "worlds". If we want to view world 3 phenomena, we have to bring them into our world, that is, view them from the point of view of time or space (particle or wave), yet the phenomena itself are necessarily altered by so doing.
When observing electrons fired individually at a screen with two holes in it, each electron passes through one or the other hole and the dots on the wall behind the screen exhibit the pattern expected of individual particles being shot at a wall with two holes in it, two scatter-shot patterns.
But when the electrons are fired in the same manner, but not observed, the dots on the wall exhibit a different pattern, the characteristic pattern of the wave form. That is, the individually fired electrons are somehow relating to each other, despite time.
It is sometimes said about the experimental results of quantum physics that "observation affects reality", or that consciousness influences the experiment. But this is not quite correct, because the interaction with the experiment may be, and typically is, a mechanical device, and it is this device that effects the phenomena observed. What is happening is that we are introducing a coarser instrument to study finer phenomena, resulting in data that we then study. (This is the process of form acting on life to produce matter as discussed in The Process 3-1-2.)
What Bohr succeeded in realizing was that in this pursuit of ever-more fundamental building blocks we would ultimately face situations in which the complexity of our everyday world no longer applies. Einstein wanted to keep applying the old logic of everyday life to "places" it no longer belonged.
One of the great physicists contemporary with Bohr protested:
A widely accepted school of thought maintains that an objective picture of reality—in any traditional meaning of that term—cannot exist at all. Only the optimists among us (and I consider myself one of them) look upon this view as a philosophical extravagance born of despair in the face of a grave crisis.
The "widely accepted school of thought" that Shrödinger refers to is the so-called Copenhagen school, led by Niels Bohr. What they stated is so obvious and self-evident, we are only left to wonder at the almost virulent reaction of Shrödinger, Einstein, and many more. Shrödinger, in the quote above, inserts the parenthetical phrase about reality—"in any traditional meaning of that term". Well. By "tradition", he can only mean the science that preceded quantum physics. To hold this "tradition" as inviolable evinces a lack of appreciation of anything possibly greater than the educated Western world view of the previous few hundred years. Certainly the results of experiments in quantum physics were disturbing, but we can learn to recognize such disturbances as the heralds of new knowledge, new and better ways of seeing.
Shrödinger's comments above are rife with vapors. Calling himself an optimist in his view, and the view of Bohr as a "philosophical extravagance born of despair in the face of a grave crisis" smacks for all the world of what I have elsewhere referred to as pathological thought (see Three Types of Thought). We hear, for example, a strong emotional plea claiming to expose a strong emotional plea in another. Bohr calmly (but not always clearly) referred to the evidence. Shrödinger and Einstein insisted reality must conform to their preconceptions, not what was clear and demonstrable. In one famous interchange regarding the absolute non-determinabilty of certain quantum phenomena, Einstein insisted God did not play dice with the universe. Bohr remained non-committal, but guessed it was not up to us to tell God how to run the universe.
Surely this seems arrogant, for me to argue against the likes of Shrödinger and Einstein. No doubt there is some arrogance in me to do that, but in this case I welcome and encourage it to speak out. I, and maybe you, will likely never reach either the mathematical or influential pinnacle of such figures, but that does not mean that we must not participate in the discussion. We very much must participate in this discussion. We do not live in the universe of Einstein, we live in our own. The world of an Einstein may tell us much or little about our own universe, but it behooves us to listen to those whom many say see the universe with such great clarity, that it sheds light on other's. But we get nothing out of it by simply accepting it, and we get nothing out of it by simply rejecting it. If we are going to profit by it, we have to wrestle with it, like Jacob with the Angel, or we get nothing for ourselves. We can test our minds, and test our feelings, against it.
What we face today is the possibility of thinking in a new way regarding a place in which the ordinary complexity of laws is greatly reduced, and common divisions are united. Not to think in this way when we drive to the grocery store and buy turnips, but to think in this new way when we reflect on matters related to the very small and very large.
We must fuel our thought with the finer matters of higher worlds if we are to learn the more unified concepts of those worlds. And we can work on refining those matters on our way to the store to buy turnips.
There shall be time no longer.
All pages © Copyright John Raithel